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Endodontics and Root Canal Questions


Answers to common questions about endodontics


What is Endodontics?
Endodontics is a specialty branch of dentistry relating to the dental pulp and tissue that surrounds the roots of a tooth. Endodontic treatment (root canal therapy) treats the soft pulp tissue inside the tooth.


What is the primary focus of an Endodontist?
An Endodontist is a dental specialist who diagnoses and treats diseases of the dental pulp found within a tooth. The common name for the procedures within endodontics is root canal therapy, although they may also perform special procedures to save teeth after traumatic dental injuries. Endodontists become specialists by completing two or more years of advanced training in endodontics following dental school.


What’s the difference between root canal therapy and a root canal?
Root canal therapy is commonly simplified to a root canal. They are the same thing. Root canal therapy is also sometimes referred to as RCT.


What is a root canal?
When the pulp of a tooth becomes badly damaged by decay, multiple or deep restorations, or trauma it may have to be removed in order to retain the tooth. In many cases, where the damaged pulp has progressed to causing infection in the tissues including the bone surrounding the tooth, that infection will also have to be managed.


What causes a root canal?
There are several causes that may lead to a root canal. They include:

  • A deep cavity
  • A cracked tooth
  • A broken tooth
  • Repeated dental procedures to the same tooth
  • Severe injury to the tooth (even if it can’t be seen with the naked eye)


What are the symptoms that root canal therapy is needed?
Sometimes no symptoms are present; however, signs you may need a root canal include:

  • Severe toothache pain when chewing or applying pressure to the affected tooth
  • Prolonged sensitivity
  • Pain to heat or cold temperatures (after the hot or cold has been removed)
  • Discoloration (a darkening) of the tooth
  • Swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums
  • A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums

Sometimes other circumstances are involved but the best thing to do is to see your dentist every six months and practice good oral health habits like brushing and flossing.


How painful is a root canal?
Root canals have the bad reputation of being extremely painful. Actually, most people report that the procedure itself has no more discomfort than having a filling placed.


Why is pain often associated with root canals?
Most endodontics patients deal with symptoms for days if not weeks before seeking treatment. They can’t chew on a particular tooth or on that side of their mouth, they can’t sleep at night, and they need to avoid cold foods and drinks. If root canal therapy is warranted, analgesics or pain relievers and perhaps antibiotics will be prescribed depending on the status of the remaining pulp and the presence or absence of swelling. So patients can be sore after treatment but the medications prescribed do aid in their return to normalcy.


What is a pulpotomy?
Pulpotomy is the clinical term for the removal of the painful nerve tissue at the top of the root canal system. It is performed with primary teeth as a final treatment of the nerve. In adult teeth it is referred to as a partial root canal and is usually provided during an urgent care appointment to relieve pain.


What is an apicoectomy?
In rare case, when a conventional root canal fails, an endodontic procedure called an apicoectomy may be needed. Also know as root end surgery, an apicoectomy involves removing the affected tooth's root tip and filling the root end cavity with a biocompatible material.


What is an abscessed tooth?
An abscessed tooth is an infection that stems from tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease or a cracked tooth. Any of these issues let bacteria enter the pulp of the tooth, lead to pulp damage and causing pus to build up below the tooth at the root tip. This build up of a pus pocket in the jawbone is called an abscess. Left untreated, an abscessed tooth can lead to a serious infection in the tooth, gums, and jaw.

Symptoms of an abscessed tooth include pain and swelling around the affected tooth, redness in the gums, and a foul taste in the mouth.